** This following post was written by my younger brother Lucas Yang, who also follows soccer as much as me and is looking into following in my footsteps **
No coach in Korean history has experimented with formations as much as Shin Tae Yong. You can make a case for Cho Kwang Rae maybe but for him it wasn’t experimenting with formations as much as experimenting with players in unfamiliar positions. But according to Shin Tae Yong we are done experimenting. He has decided upon two formations – a plan A and a plan B – that he will use throughout the tournament. Plus, with such a tiny squad it’s a little more difficult to pull off all the formations he managed to use at the 2016 AFC Championship.
Over the past eight months, in which we played 14 matches, STY has fielded a total of 5 different lineups (on paper at least – whether you think a 4-3-3 is basically the same as a narrower version of a 4-1-4-1 is up to you, but they definitely play differently). Just for fun, I wanted to see how many times STY has gone with each formation, how many wins/losses each one led to, and against what kinds of opponents STY plays them, in an effort to predict what we will see against Fiji, Germany, and Mexico. I am not nearly as good at this kind of stuff as Jae is, but here’s my take on the different formations we’ve seen so far!
Formation 1: 4-2-3-1
Games in which it was used: Iraq, Japan, Algeria-2, Denmark, Sweden
Results: 2W 2D 1L
Before the latest friendly against Sweden, STY boldly claimed “I never use a 4-2-3-1.” Less than a day later he submitted this starting XI. And I hear it played very much like any other 4-2-3-1.
So I’m not quite sure what the purpose of this was. Maybe it has something to do with confusing our opponents (giving Hwang Hee Chan the #5 jersey lol). But assuming that STY isn’t going to stay true to such words, it seems that this formation is probably one of the two that STY will use at the Olympics. One, he’s used it more than any other formation. Two, it’s been used against the “most serious” opponents in Japan, Denmark, and the UEFA champions Sweden (albeit only a fraction of the trophy winning squad is with the current Sweden squad). Three, he’s used it in the last two open door friendlies, and I say open door because there were closed door friendlies against Iraq as well.
What works about a 4-2-3-1? It’s a slightly more complex formation that emphasizes midfield flexibility. You get passing triangles everywhere and the two #6’s can, depending on the situation, press like mad, shield the defenders, cover for fullbacks, or make vertical runs from deep. For Korea this would likely look something like SHJ – SHM MCJ KCH – JHS PYW, and I say Jang Hyun Soo because 1) we don’t know about Lee Chan Dong’s condition and 2) STY recently proclaimed that JHS is a midfielder, not a defender.
Who would we use this against? I’d say it’s a safe bet against Mexico and Germany, but I might be a little more cautious against Germany. First off, while there are successful examples of beating a 4-2-3-1 with a 4-2-3-1, we’re not at the level where we can out-Germany Germany, a team that will probably control the game with ~60% possession. Against a full out attack minded team like Mexico, 4-2-3-1 is probably a safe bet,
Formation 2: 4-1-4-1
Games in which it was used: Yemen, Nigeria
A 4-1-4-1 emphasizes flexibility even more than the 4-2-3-1. This one has been a favorite of Uli Stielike and as of late, Pep Guardiola at Bayern. It has also been used to fantastic effect at the Euros, which this article details very well.
This formation works very well if you have a solid midfield “1” like Schweinsteiger or Xabi Alonso. IMO, the best player in Korea who can fulfill that role is Ki Sung Yong, but it is also true that he is better utilized higher up (why can’t we just have like three KSY’s, one for CB DM and AM?). I’ve seen Jeong Woo Young and Han Kook Young in those roles and let me say it doesn’t really work. I have actually espoused a KSY – LJS/KCH KJC midfield trio (now with Kim Bo Kyung in the mix) in the past, but alas it has yet to happen.
When Shin Tae Yong uses this formation, the 1 has always been Park Yong Woo and one of the 2 CM’s has always been Lee Chang Min. We somehow beat Nigeria with this lineup but I’m not entirely sure if Park Yong Woo, or even Lee Chan Dong, can hold his own against the likes of Germany or Mexico. I can say with confidence that this will work against Fiji (any lineup can work against Fiji, sorry guys), but if I had to pick one of Germany or Mexico to play a 4-1-4-1 against, I would probably have to say Mexico. This is because I believe we have a superior midfield core to Mexico, but not against Germany.
Formation 3: 4-4-2 Diamond
Games: Uzbekistan, Jordan, Honduras*
Results: 2W 1D
*Flat 4-4-2 was employed on paper and in practice. Did not go too well. Unconvincing draw was the result.
This was STY’s go-to at one point but he abandoned it pretty quickly seeing that it wasn’t too effective during the tournament in Qatar. But he brought it back against Honduras recently, making me think it might be brought back in the Olympics – perhaps against Fiji.
A 4-4-2 is more or less a narrow 4-4-2 with the two midfielders partitioned into a #10 and a #6. Instead of the two CM’s sharing defensive / offensive duties you get a designated AM and designated DM. Instead of wingers you get two CM’s that are free to roam but must be careful not to leave gaps behind them, which can happen if they drift wide too much.
This formation didn’t work in the AFC tournament because using PYW as the #6 was too much for him. Perhaps even Lee Chan Dong alone in the #6 wouldn’t work either. Thus, it seems that the general consensus among the fans is, a 4-4-2 diamond will probably only be used against Fiji. If it’s shaky against the likes of Uzbekistan, it will surely be disastrous in the Olympics.
Formation 4: Traditional 4-3-3 with DM
Games: vs. UAE, Saudi Arabia
This formation was played in 2 meaningless friendly wins way back in January, and it’s very unlikely to make a comeback at the Olympics. Next!
Formation 5: 3-4-3 / 5-back
Games: Qatar, Algeria-1
This one is actually a very interesting lineup. It worked surprisingly well against the offensively-studded Qatar, and also allowed us to beat a very jetlagged Algerian side. Every time STY has used it, Park Yong Woo was played in CB. If used again, the central CB in the 3-back is almost certain to be Jang Hyun Soo. And one of the CM’s in the midfield 4 will likely be Lee Chan Dong for the extra defensive cover (just as STY used Hwang Ki Wook as a CM against Qatar). There is a chance we may see this against Germany or Mexico, but I wouldn’t bet on Shin Tae Yong pulling this one out either.
Hey everyone! I’m Jinseok’s younger brother Lucas living in Columbus, Ohio and a junior in high school. Thank you for reading my post, and hopefully I will be able to contribute more in the future!